Ogawa was born in Okayama, Okayama Prefecture, graduated from Waseda University, and lives in Ashiya, Hy?go, with her husband and son. Since 1988, she has published more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction. Her novel The Professor's Beloved Equation has been made into a movie. In 2006 she co-authored "An Introduction to the World's Most Elegant Mathematics" with Masahiko Fujiwara, a mathematician, as a dialogue on the extraordinary beauty of numbers.
A film in French, L'Annulaire (The Ringfinger), directed by Diane Bertrand, starring Olga Kurylenko (the new Bond girl in her film début) and Marc Barbé, with a soundtrack by Beth Gibbons, was released in France in June 2005 and subsequently made the rounds of the international film festivals; the film, some of which is filmed in the Hamburg docks, is based in part on Ogawa's Kusuriyubi no hy?hon (?????), translated into French as L'Annulaire (by Rose-Marie Makino-Fayolle who has translated numerous works by Ogawa, as well as works by Akira Yoshimura and by Edogawa Rampo, into French). (The dockland setting and a significant subplot owe nothing to Ogawa's novella. Interestingly, in conversation with the audience after a showing of the film at the Edinburgh Film Festival, 2006, Diane Bertrand said that she was not sure that she understood the book.)
Kenzabur? ?e has said, "Yoko Ogawa is able to give expression to the most subtle workings of human psychology in prose that is gentle yet penetrating." The subtlety in part lies in the fact that Ogawa's characters often seem not to know why they are doing what they are doing. She works by accumulation of detail, a technique that is perhaps more successful in her shorter works; the slow pace of development in the longer works requires something of a deus ex machina to end them. The reader is presented with an acute description of what the protagonists, mostly but not always female, observe and feel and their somewhat alienated self-observations, some of which is a reflection of Japanese society and especially women's roles within in it. The tone of her works varies, across the works and sometimes within the longer works, from the surreal, through the grotesque and the ...sometimes grotesquely... humorous, to the psychologically ambiguous and even disturbing. (Hotel Iris, one of her longer works, is more explicit sexually than her other works and is also her most widely translated.)
The Man Who Sold Braces (Gibusu o uru hito, ???????, 1998); translated by Shibata Motoyuki, Manoa, 13.1, 2001.
Transit (Toranjitto, ??????, 1996); translated by Alisa Freedman, Japanese Art: The Scholarship and Legacy of Chino Kaori, special issue of Review of Japanese Culture and Society, vol. XV (Center for Inter-Cultural Studies and Education, Josai University, December 2003): 114-125. ISSN 0913-4700
The Cafeteria in the Evening and a Pool in the Rain (Y?gure no ky?shoku shitsu to ame no p?ru, ?????????????, 1991); translated by Stephen Snyder, The New Yorker, 9/2004. read
Pregnancy Diary (Ninshin karend?, ???????, 1991); translated by Stephen Snyder, The New Yorker, 12/2005. read
The Gift of Numbers (Hakase no ai shita s?shiki, ????????, 2003); translated by Yosei Sugawara, New York : Picador, 2006. ISBN 0-312-42597-X - Not currently available on amazon.com, and not really clear whether it was ever published at all; however, recently resurfaced in a different translation (see below).
The Diving Pool: Three Novellas (Daibingu puru, ??????????, 1990; Ninshin karend?, ???????, 1991; Dormitory, ?????, 1991); translated by Stephen Snyder, New York: Picador, 2008. ISBN 0-312-42683-6
The Housekeeper and the Professor (Hakase no ai shita s?shiki, ????????, 2003); translated by Stephen Snyder, New York : Picador, 2008. ISBN 0-312-42780-8 (years ago announced as "The Gift of Numbers" in a different translation)
Hotel Iris (Hoteru Airisu, ????????, 1996; available in English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Greek, Italian, Slovene)